Saturday, January 26, 2013

Disc harrows and white horses

click photo to enlarge
The other day, as I looked at the rusty metal discs on the harrow shown in today's photograph, out of nowhere it seemed, a thought popped into my head: "What ever happened to the Ebbsfleet horse?" Anyone with a working knowledge of some of the more grandiose lunacies of modern British art will know that to which I refer. For the uninitiated the background is as follows. In 2009 Mark Wallinger's design was chosen as the winning submission in a competition for a large public sculpture at Ebbsfleet in Kent. The piece was intended to mark the area's redevelopment and the international railway station in particular. His work is a big - very big, 33X life size, 160 feet high - white horse made of concrete on a steel frame. It is a representational piece: imagine a child's play farm animal inflated to gigantic proportions. Why a white horse? Well, the county symbol for Kent is a white horse rampant with the word "Invicta". Moreover, the white chalk hills of the county feature white horses made by removing the turf.

As a sculpture it leaves everything to be desired. The photomontages showing how it will appear from afar illustrate what a blot on the landscape the white horse will be: every bit as bad as Damien Hurst's 65 feet tall sculpture of a half-flayed pregnant woman wielding a sword (called "Verity") at Ilfracombe. In fact, the latter has more to commend it because Hurst paid for it and it's on loan for a period of twenty years after which it will be gone. The money for the white horse hasn't been forthcoming, which is good of course. The concern must be that at some point public money is sought for the project and then Kent will be stuck with it for ever - or at least until it becomes a grubby eyesore and is wrestled to the ground like the statue of Saddam Hussein.

So what has a disc harrow to do with the white horse? Well, in December 2008, at a time when a short-list of three candidates was being considered for the Ebbsfleet sculpture I wrote a blog post proposing that a disc harrow might make a more appropriate subject and posted a shot to illustrate my point. Seeing the example above brought back memories of that. What I also liked about this particular harrow, as well as the repetition of shapes, was the mottled terracotta appearance of the rust. I thought then, and I still think, that a scaled up version of this above an agricultural landscape would have more beauty, interest and appropriateness than an inflated white horse.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 1250
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On